I got into a conversation on Twitter this morning with PC Bushi that grew to include several other individuals. Mr. Bushi initiated things by saying Leigh Brackett’s short story “The Woamn From Altair” demonstrated her range as a writer because it was a well-written story that wasn’t an adventure story. I agreed. (If you’re interested, my review from a couple of years ago is here.)
Early in the course of the conversation, he linked to a post he had written about Jack Vance and Andre Norton, discussing their versatility as writers. He says some good stuff, and you should check it out.
The conversation moved onto to all the genres Brackett wrote in. In addition to space opera and science fiction, she also wrote detective stories (which is what got her the job writing for Howard Hawks on The Big Sleep) and westerns. This discussion got me to thinking… Continue reading →
Clark Ashton Smith was born on January 13 in 1893. He was one of the greatest fantasists of the Weird Tales era on indeed any era. Writing contemporaneously with Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, Smith was considered one of the big three of what many consider to be the golden age of Weird Tales.
Unfortunately, he has not fared as well as those two in the years since he died. (Smith died in 1961, but he had stopped writing fiction years before.) He is still revered among fans of weird fiction, but he is not as well known among the general public. This is highly unfortunate.
There are probably several reasons contributing to this relative obscurity compared to his two contemporaries named above. For one thing, he never had any series characters, such as Howard did, with Conan being the most well known. Much of Lovecraft’s work was set in what has become known as the Cthulhu Mythos, uniting a variety of stories against a common background with common elements. Smith wrote multiple tales set in a number of story cycles, but for the most part these works shared a setting with no recurring characters and no mythos to link them.
Smith’s style is probably the biggest obstacle a modern reader needs to overcome. He started out as a poet, and with its lush prose, his work reflects that. Smith knew his way around a dictionary and wasn’t afraid to use it. While this might be off-putting and not in line with contemporary trends, I personally find it a good thing. While reading Smith might involve some mental work, and not something to be attempted at bedtime if you’re tired, I have always found reading Smith to be rewarding. Continue reading →
Lyman Sprague de Camp was born on November 27, 1907. He passed away in 2000. I hadn’t intended to do another birthday post so soon after the ones earlier this week, but when I saw today was de Camp’s birthday, I couldn’t pass it up. L. Sprague de Camp had one of the longest careers in the field (over 60 years) and worked as both author and editor. He was a major player in the history of Robert E. Howard.
We’ll talk about de Camp and Howard in a bit. First, I want to look at de Camp as a writer independent of Howard. Among Howard fans, that work tends to be overlooked. Continue reading →
I saw somewhere that today is supposed to be National Poetry Day, so I thought I would read some selections by one of my favorite poets. Robert E. Howard is held in pretty high esteem in these here parts. This is a side of Howard’s writing that isn’t as well known as it should be.The volume you see on the left is over 700 pages in length. It was published by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press. If you don’t have a copy, that’s unfortunate. It’s out of print. (And you ain’t gettin’ mine.)
“Black Amazon of Mars” appeared in its original form in Planet Stories, March 1951. It was later expanded into the short novel The People of the Talisman (1964). This post will review just the original version. I’ll save comparison of the two for another day.
The story starts with Eric John Stark accompanying a Martian companion, Camar, home to the city of Kushat just south of the northern polar ice cap. Camar is dying and wants to return a sacred talisman he stole. The talisman was left by the legendary Ban Cruach to protect the city from a danger in a canyon to the north known as the Gates of Death.
Camar dies in the opening scene of the story, but not before Stark promises to fulfill his quest. The talisman is a jewel. Stark puts it against his temple, sees strange visions that come straight from Ban Cruach’s mind, and takes it off. He hides the talisman in his belt and sets off for Kushat. It isn’t long before he runs into trouble. Continue reading →
There are a number of birthdays today in the fields of the fantastic, including but not limited to C. J. Cherryh (1942), Timothy Zahn (1951), and S. Andrew Swann (1966). But there are two writers born on this date (September 1) against whom all others with birthdays today pale in comparison. Continue reading →
I know I should have posted this almost two weeks ago, but I’ve been pretty swamped. I’m teaching a class at the moment that’s taking up most of my time. But since I don’t feel like grading exams on a Friday evening, I’ll blog instead.
This year’s theme was “Howard Detectives: The Ongoing Search for Undiscovered Information”. Since there weren’t any anniversaries this year, things were a little low key compared to recent years. That was fine with me. The attendance was down a little, which was disappointing.
I got in on Thursday afternoon. Like I did two years ago, I stayed at the isolated farmhouse down the hill from the cemetery. There weren’t any creepy things this time, but then I had a better idea of what to expect. There also wasn’t a working air conditioner. I slept with the windows open. At first I thought about going to a hotel, but if Two-Gun Bob could sleep without AC all his life, I could do it for a few nights. Continue reading →
Hey, folks, the Chicken Fried Cthulhu Kickstarter has 25 hours left as I write this and is still a ways from funding. This is an anthology of southwestern flavored Cthulhu and Lovecraft themed stories. It’s set to premiere at the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio this year.
If it funds. It’s from the same crew that brought you Skelos, and there’s an impressive lineup of authors listed, including Robert E. Howard and Joe Lansdale. Part of the reason the goal is so high is that the editors want to pay the authors professional rates, and that takes money.
So if you’ve been thinking about pledging, please do so. I would really like to see this project get off the ground. I am not an author in the anthology and my only connection to the project is that I’m friends with the guys putting it together. I just want to read the stories.
“Men of the Shadows”
First published in Bran Mak Morn, Dell 1969
written circa 1925-1926
The first of Howard’s tales of the Pictish king Bran Mak Morn, “Men of the Shadows” was rejected by Weird Tales in 1926. Upon reading it, it’s easy to see why.
The story starts out strong. Narrated by a Norseman in the Roman army, he and his companions are nearly cut down in a battle with the Picts. Five of the Roman soldiers survive, but as they make their way back to Roman territory, they are one by one cut down until only the Norseman is left.
He’s taken captive by a group of Picts and taken before their chieftan, Bran Mak Morn. (Bran is merely a chieftan in this story, not a king.) None of the soldiers knew what their mission was except the commander, and he took that secret with him to his grave. Bran introduces the soldier to his sister and tells him that a reward had been posted for whoever captured the girl and brought to a Roman merchant. Continue reading →
Note: This post became a lot more personal than I intended. Rather than rewrite it, I’ll expand on the opening paragraphs about theBallantine Best of series in a future post.
Way back in ancient times, in other words the summer before I started high school, my parents agreed to let me join the Science Fiction Book Club, something I had been asking to do for a while. I still remember the first shipment of books contained one of the Ballantine Best of series (Frederik Pohl).
In fact, for the first six months or so I was a member, each month the catalog I received contained a different volume of that series. I bought them all. Or rather all the ones the Club offered from the time I joined onwards. (For some reason I never saw the C. L. Moore volume listed in any of the mail-outs. I bought it in paperback, although there was an SFBC edition.)
I had become aware of Ballantine’s Best of series in the seventh grade, when I found a copy of The Best of Jack Williamson at the flea market in a little book shop that sold paperbacks with missing covers for a quarter. I wouldn’t learn that such sales were illegal until a few years later. Continue reading →